What Is Asbestos and Where Does It Come From?
Asbestos (derived from the Greek asbestos, meaning unquenchable) is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that was added to over 3,000 building materials and products until it was prohibited in 1999. Asbestos can be found in any building built before the year 2000.
There are two types of asbestos; Serpentine and Amphibole. Although both types are microscopic, Serpentine fibres appear curly and snake like whilst Amphiboles are sharp and needle like.
Chrysotile (sometimes known as white asbestos) is comprised of Serpentine fibres. Amosite (brown asbestos) and Crocidolite (blue asbestos) are Amphiboles as are Actinolite, Tremolite and Anthophyllite. The colour is not apparent within an asbestos containing material and should not be used as a guide as to whether something contains asbestos.
Asbestos is a carcinogen that poses a significant risk to health if disturbed causing around 5,000 deaths per year.
When asbestos containing materials are damaged or disturbed, fibres are released into the air. The inhalation of these fibres can cause serious diseases such as Mesothelioma, Asbestosis or cancer. These diseases can take a long time to develop but are often untreatable once diagnosed.
Why Did We Use Asbestos?
Asbestos was considered a wonder material displaying a large number of desirable properties: It did not burn, was resistant to acids, greatly increased the tensile strength of materials it was added to (Chrysotile and Crocidolite could stand the rigour of being machine woven into cloths), dampened noise, was lightweight and was cheap.
Large scale production of asbestos began in the mid-19th Century, the use of the material in the UK peaked around the mid-20th Century.
Over 3,000 building materials and products were used throughout the UK that contained asbestos.
Those who manage or are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of non-domestic premises are classed as ‘Duty Holders’ and are required to manage asbestos by:
- Taking reasonable steps to find out if there are materials containing asbestos in non-domestic premises, and if so, its amount, where it is and what condition it is in
- Presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
- Make and keep up-to-date, a record of the location and condition of the asbestos-containing materials – or materials which are presumed to contain asbestos
- Assess the risk of anyone being exposed to fibres from the materials identified
- Prepare a plan that sets out in detail how the risks from there materials will be managed
- Take the necessary steps to put the plan into action
- Periodically review and monitor the plan and the arrangements to act on it so that the plan remains relevant and up-to-date
- Provide information on the location and condition of the materials to anyone who is liable to work on or disturb them